Exploring the Hugh River

Where are we now
Alice Springs

Travelling Tales
After saying farewell to Brij & Fedra and Geoff we decided on our route for the next 10 days then faced the rough road out of Rainbow Valley. A short drive up the highway and turned left on to the Owen Springs Reserve Tourist Drive. Great signage and leaflets as we turn on to the road, looks like Northern Territory are really making an effort to make life easy for travellers. Just 4km up the road we turn off to camp on the Hugh River at Redbank Waterhole. Only one other camper here but a few day visitors including 4 vehicles that tested out their four wheel driving skills, they failed dismally getting frequently stuck in the sandy river bed. This has to be one of our top camping spots on this trip, we camp just above the river where there was a few small waterholes remaining just big enough for a few small fish which attract the Grey Herons and Little Eagles. Also plenty of Cockatiels, Galahs, Crows, Willy Wagtails, Magpie Larks and Honey Eaters. Our highlight was seeing a large nest with a Little Eagle who was just learning to fly and also a flock of Red Tailed Cockatoo who came for a drink in the early evening.

The only downside to camping at Redbank Waterhole was when Rob went to put up the hammocks he stood in an ants nest, these weren’t your normal garden variety these were super sized about 3cm long and bit very hard. His toes swelled and were very itchy and we never did get to relax in the hammocks there. Had a late start the next day as we were watching the eagles and other birds coming down for their morning drink. Amazing how time flies when watching nature.

We carried on along the road entering Lawrence Gorge the track is good, just a slow meandering drive along the river bed, could be interesting after rain though as there are lots of creek crossings. Plenty of beautiful old gums and we are now in the red rock region so some gorgeous views. This must be an amazing area when the river is up as each tree has a stack of wood against the trunk brought down in the last flood. We didn’t drive very far as we spotted another good site to stop ah life’s tough when you drive less than 30 kilometres and then pull over for another chance to enjoy the peace and beauty overnight.

After a good night we continue on the tourist drive checking out the sites on the map including the old Homestead Ruins, interesting this place was built in stone and restored to what it would have looked like. Met up with a tour group here and had a bit of a chat to the driver, they take passengers on a 5 day excursion from Alice Springs camping along the way. They too have an Isuzu truck towing a trailer – good looking setup.

Chambers Pillar, Old Ghan Track & Rainbow Valley

Where are we now
Alice Springs

Travelling Tales

The convoy of 6 celebrated their success by a final dinner in the Mt Dare Hotel and then a chat round the fire. We had our first spits of rain and some thunder and lightning thankfully it stayed dry overnight and we woke to another lovely day.

After a photo shoot we split our group and we headed north in our group of 3 to Finke. The others headed up the Andado Track planning to return to Birdsville via the Madigan Line. The Mt Dare Road was good to start as the grader had been working in preparation for the crowds in June. However when we passed the grader the road deteriorated especially when we turned west just prior to Finke toward the Lambert Centre, the geographical centre of Australia. Horrible horrible corrugations but once Rob worked out the perfect speed was about 65 we just flew on the top what an amazing difference. Still had to be careful of dips and on the corners though. After lunching at the Centre of Australia and the obligatory photo shoot we went back through to Finke. We took advice we’d received from Mt Dare owners not to stop due to the risk of having rocks thrown at us. No problems, just a normal town with folk doing normal stuff.

We were now heading north on the Old Ghan Track this is a red sandy road which hasn’t see a grader in a while so we were back to the shake, rattle and roll. Again we could find the sweet speed but more corners and dips which would break our rhythm. We were following the route of the Finke Motorcycle Race (as well as the Old Ghan Railway) which is held in June each year so saw many arrows, cautions and other signage. Early afternoon we stopped at a flat clay pan for the night, nice scenery and Fedra and I even went for a walk to check out the hills and small dunes.

We continue on the Old Ghan Track stopping at various old railway sidings, derelict concrete buildings and a large old water tank. Great informative history boards at each stop gave us a good idea just how hard life was in the days when the railway was laid down and then maintained. Disgusted by the amount of rubbish in this area both at the sidings and along the road. Thankfully the road surface did improve mid morning which made travelling more pleasant and we could converse with each other and also with the others via the CB radio. We turned left on the road from Alice Springs down to Maryvale Station woohoo mobile phone access and a good general store with basics but sadly no fresh fruit or veges.

After more corrugations and a stop for firewood we saw our destination in the distance, Chambers Pillar, an amazing sandstone rock standing out on its own. As we drove toward the Historical Reserve we saw there are a few other pillars but not so narrow or outstanding as Chambers. Our first official campground in the Northern Territory, oh yes we crossed the border from South Australia just after Mt Dare, and very impressed. Tidy with separate camp sites, gas and fire BBQ’s, toilets and benches all for only $3.30 each. Good walks too, up and around the pillars and great information board. Lovely sunset for pictures and clear night to enjoy the stars. Motivated to get out of bed early to see the sunrise on the pillar as well.

With just 3 vehicles in our group we are starting slightly later but still on the road by 9am, I think the coolness makes the corrugations on the red sand roads less harsh so worth being organised. We head back through Maryvale Station and another quick catch up on internet before heading back on the edge of the Old Ghan Track, we see motorcyclists presumably practicing for the Finke Race. Before long we take a turn off to the left onto the Hugh River Stock Route, like many roads and tracks we’ve travelled on we have no idea of the condition until we get there. HRSR was a great road to travel very little corrugation, lovely views and I even got to get out a few times to open gates. We stopped by the current Ghan Railway Line for lunch before turning on to the Stuart Highway our first highway in 2 weeks and the speed limit is 130 wow!

After fuelling up 5km up the highway at a much more respectable price of $1.60 for diesel we continued north to turn off to Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve another red sandy corrugated road, poor Walkabout III is definitely having a good shaking. The road in was 22 km and another wow moment when we see the ancient rock formations and the large clay pans. This was our last night as a group so after walking the 2 tracks and taking some nice sunset photos we relaxed round the fire talking about past and future travel plans.

Simpson Desert in the SLR part 2

Where are we nowLarapinta Drive more than 100km from Alice Springs
Travelling Tales
Day 6 we continue on the French Line and sadly the end of the lovely red dunes. The last hill we see is on its own and man made so we take this chance to have a photo shoot of the vehicles in all their glory. The road became very corrugated which is my least favourite road we can’t even hold a conversation. We did have a great stop at Salt Creek which was an amazing place with pools which were incredibly salty no surviving fish although there was some tiny ones, dead of course. Also the crystallised plants were amazing and so pretty. We turned left at the intersection of French Line and French Line (closed road and current road) to go out to the lookout, not really worth the 16km but good lunch spot and nice views across the plains. This is gibber country again and the rocks are very interesting in the sunlight. More corrugated tracks and clay washouts as we arrived at Dalhousie Springs. This is a surprise with plenty of fenced off areas and even toilets and showers but of course the highlight here is the swimming hole, it’s about 34degrees and very large about 300 x 80 meters. Surrounded by natural vegetation and good steps down into it so of course we had many swims in our 24hours there.
Day 7
After a lazy start to the day we left after lunch to Dalhousie Homestead Ruins where we wandered around and talked about how hard life must have been back then trying to get the pastoral land productive. Cattle are still around here but not sure when they are mustered. The day was the windiest we’ve had and we had to keep doors and windows closed as the dust layered everything very quickly. A warm day up to 34 degrees but still low humidity. Tyres were inflated back up to 40psi for the rocky roads but we remain in 4wd. After a short drive of less than 20 km we arrived at our next campsite 3 O’Clock Creek. We are the only ones here unlike Dalhousie Springs where people were coming and going, including 3 guys from NZ who had ridden motorbikes across from Birdsville on the French Line. This is the second group of motorcycle riders we’ve seen but apart from them all travellers have been in standard four wheel drive vehicles similar to the Prado’s we are travelling with and utes. We’ve seen a few camper trailers and slide ons but the majority are camping. No other trucks like our group.

Day 8 although it feels like we have finished the crossing of the Simpson Desert we are still in the park. The scenery is all flat gibber plains as we head toward Mt Dare we have a few stops, firstly Opossum Waterhole on Bloody Creek – the white settlers modified this waterhole so it would hold more water much to the disgust of the aboriginals. Next we stopped at the Federate Ruins where there was old stockyards and documented history. The final stop was at an old water stop used when they were putting in the telegraph line, not much to show now except old rusty equipment and the old well probably hand dug. Another horrific corrugated road into Mt Dare where we fuelled up at $2.17 per litre 57cents per litre more than in Birdsville. We also camp here the night our last night for all 6 of the vehicles, 3 are leaving us to do the Madigan Track back to Birdsville while the other 2 are joining us for the next 3 nights before they head on different routes back to Brisbane.

The tracks we took were – QAA Line, K1 South, French Line, Knolls Track, WAA Line, Erabena Track (to the Lone Gum) WAA Line, Rig Road and finished on the French Line.

Thanks to Neil & Pauline for giving us this opportunity we wish you well and big thanks also to Brij & Fedra, Dan & Fay, Trevor, Henny & Stephen and Geoff for accepting us into your group and also all the advice and friendship as we traveled – what a great team.

Simpson Desert part 1

Where are we now

Maryvale Station
Travelling Tales
Our unexpected travel across the Simpson Desert started off with the first dune – Little Red where we all let our tyres down slightly – no problems. Then the lower portion of the Big Red Dune Nappanerica – let our tyres down more – problems- let our tyres down more – problems – problems – eventually let ours down to 25 psi. The rest of the trucks in the group were having the same problems and needed to use max tracks or have a tow to get over the dune even after lowering their tyre pressure, we were ok once we had the correct tyre pressure. Then it was on to Big Red proper and we’re proud to say Walkabout III reached the summit, coming from the west. Such an amazing view but we all agreed it just didn’t seem as high as the many photos we’ve seen indicate. After this we traveled over dune after dune none causing any significant problems. Great views of the track ahead going for kilometre after kilometre, we are so glad to have joined this group of 3 Canter trucks and 2 Prado’s. A mixture of ages, backgrounds and length of time knowing each other. Only one of the group has been here before but the others are all experienced four wheel drivers.

The only frustration for me on the first day was the app I use to track our trip wasn’t tracking and would keep turning off so annoying I’ve resorted to just leaving a dot trail and have to live with the fact that I can no longer record our full trip. So if you are reading this and use Pocket Earth any suggestions would be appreciated.

We had a good first night in the desert round a blazing campfire and enjoyed a cool night with a gorgeous rising full moon. In the morning I spotted a very handsome small dingo which was a great start to the day.

The second day was more ups and downs with a new highlight being crossing a number of salt lakes, all hard and dry so no problems. Brought back memories of when we were at Wendover in Utah in the pouring rain, such a contrast. We even saw large camel prints on the lakes but not a camel in sight. After stopping at Poeppel’s Corner, the junction of Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia the track changed, the red sand faded to a dusty light brown and rather than lines of dunes to cross there was a mosaic of humpy dunes making for a much rougher ride and lots of gear changing for the drivers. None of this trip is smooth but just prior to stopping on our second day it was definitely rougher and also hot as we are heading straight into the western sun.

Day 3 went well we had a few stops firstly to check out Approdinna Attora Knoll which is 2 knolls formed by a build up of gypsum, a great Aboriginal story went with this which I’m sure sure you can research if interested. Then we had a few interesting intersections with some signs reminding us of the history of the desert and the explorers who had passed this way. At this overnight stop we aren’t by a large sandy dune so I missed going for a peaceful walk and checking out the animal and insect footprints. We did however have a fantastic sunset with the temperature dropping and the sun casting a gorgeous glow.

There are various scents around and one strong one that no one can identity is not particularly pleasant but we figure it must come from a plant nearby. There is a far greater variety of vegetation than I anticipated, plenty of grasses and small shrubs and even some larger trees although nothing over 3 meters. We were fortunate this morning to see another dingo in camp, today’s visitor was very inquisitive unfortunately very skinny so was probably hungry but he kept leading the way along the track until we reached our first salt lake when he headed away following his own agenda. Just a few birds around, tiny finches and birds of prey which hopefully I’ve managed to photograph.

Travel is very slow in the desert for those of you who have never been out here you may be surprised to know our average speed is about 14km per hour and to date we haven’t exceeded 100km in a day. We start our day at about 8.30 and pull up about 4pm. Of course the drivers need to have regular breaks (a good excuse to stop for both morning and afternoon tea), it is hard work all this gear changing and managing the twists and turns of the track and to avoid the trees and shrubs, also the vehicles themselves need to cool to prevent the tyres from overheating as well as the gearbox, suspension etc. Unfortunately some tracks are narrow so Walkabout III is having a bit of a beating on the paintwork as we twist and turn our way through scratchy trees and bushes.

Day 4 we started our day by heading south on a return route to see the Lone Gum, going in the direction of the dunes rather than over them made for a very different drive and was very corrugated. The fact that there is a gum tree (well actually it’s a eucalyptus coolabah tree) here no-one really know how come but it is protected. Funny that we drove about 22km to see a tree that we’ve all seen many times before. For all of day 4 we didn’t see any other travellers so can only guess that they are sticking to the French Line. We did continue to see plenty of tracks including more camel ones and also plenty of poo spotting. We turned on to the Rig Road (off the WAA Line) which was enhanced with a clay top to allow the road trains to come through with the gear for putting down bores. Much of the clay has worn away but this is still a good track. We continue to have fly free days and very few insects at night. After enjoying a glass or two of rum Geoff decided this was the place to put out his little marsupial cage, a harmless device that anything caught can be released. The intent was that we all get a chance to see what he’d caught however in the morning the cage was gone oops Geoff didn’t secure it to anything.

We’ve had good fires each night, the 2 Canters that have boxes rather than a home on the back also have room to stow a few thicker logs which is handy. The temperature has been really nice clear days 12 to 31 degrees and only 16% humidity. Rob & I keep mentioning to each other how fortunate we are to have been able to join this group and thank our friends who put our names forward when they had the misfortune to cancel out.

Day 5 we rejoin the French Track and immediately see a group of campers and then another group before we stop for the night at Purni Bore, treat of treats there is toilet & shower oh but this brings the flies thankfully though very few. Not only do we see dingoes here but also brolgas, finches, plovers, moorhens, grebes and of course birds of prey. We set up camp prior to lunch so a chance for some to enjoy an afternoon snooze, for me it was a good chance to catch up on this blog and my photos as well as sort out my pantry of food. Late afternoon we went for a walk round the small lake, this is filled from the bore tap, greatly reduced as initially it had too greater flow which while creating a large lake for wildlife it affected the Dalhousie Springs. We saw more bird life and rabbits but still no elusive camel

Heading beyond Birdsville

We have spent a couple of days exploring Birdsville not that there is really much to see beyond the town. We did head north about 12km and checked out the Waddi Trees – very old trees and there are only 3 areas they now grow in, the wood is very hard and has been known to break axes and drills. Also took a look at the cemetery such a history here and recognition of how hard life is out here especially back in the 1800’s with no access to medical facilities and no roads especially during floods. We also caught up with the group we are going to cross the Simpson Desert with yes that’s right with the unfortunate news of our friends having to cancel their trip has given us the opportunity to take their place with 3 Canter Trucks and 2 Prado’s to cross via the French Line to Mt Dare. This isn’t a drive to do alone and we are so grateful to be in the right place at the right time.

We head off tomorrow and expect to spend up to 7 days in the desert with no internet access. Watch this space.